“IN SELF DEFENSE” The Stephen Maddox Case: The Difference Between a Self-Defense Shooting and Intentional Homicide – Reasonable Fear
Five Shots at Close Range
Lessons from the Stephen Maddox Case
PART 4: REASONABLE FEAR
In this installment of “The Four Elements of Self-Defense,” we’ll explore how “reasonable fear” factored into Stephen Maddox’s legal defense.
On the night of October 17, 2015, Kelly Wilkerson attacked and choked Stephen Maddox inside the Bill Ellis’ Convention Center. The men had past grievances related to their motorcycle club. It took several men, and a slice to the face from a small box cutter Maddox kept on his keychain to get Wilkerson – who outweighed Maddox – off of him.
Once Maddox was free, Wilkerson attacked him again. Observers pulled Wilkerson, bleeding from the cut to his face, off of him a second time. Maddox distanced himself from his assailant. Too shaken from the attack to ride away immediately, he retrieved his .44 revolver from his motorcycle outside.
According to Wilkerson’s wife, the cut to his face “enraged” her husband. As we’ve already mentioned in an earlier installment, North Carolina law gives people the right to use lethal force to defend themselves. And as we examined in the “Escalation” section, rather than ratchet up the physical violence (unlike other cases we’ve examined), Maddox tried to flee from his attacker.
But now Maddox, spent from fighting Wilkerson off, was isolated outside next to his motorcycle, where he had just retrieved his .44 revolver. An infuriated Wilkerson continued to pursue him. Maddox had a reasonable fear that grievous bodily injury or death loomed over him. He had done everything in his power to escape this dangerous situation and was running out of options.
Reasonable fear is an important factor to establish in a self-defense shooting argument. Maddox called 911, but the call was interrupted by Wilkerson’s third attack of the night. After Wilkerson rushed Maddox, Maddox fired his weapon. He fired again as the men tussled on the ground – all in an attempt to save his own life.
These are some of the crucial details surrounding the concept of “reasonable fear” that eventually led to a full acquittal by jury at Stephen Maddox’s first-degree murder trial.